My Prototypical Career Counseling Client
A common conundrum and path forward.
Posted May 15, 2018
This is a composite of a common challenge I face as a career counselor:
She’s a liberal arts grad in her 30s or 40s who has had jobs in a company as low-level as administrative assistant, high as vice-president. Her strengths lie in communication, organization, working on or leading teams, is good at planning strategy or good at details but not both. She’s worked for a tech, health care, consumer products, or financial services company and would like something more nonprofity, for example, working for a corporation’s foundation that gives away money to charity causes or for a nonprofit if it pays well, offers job security and work-life balance.
Because such jobs are in-demand, including by people with more relevant experience, applying for an openly advertised job rarely works. Usually dozens if not hundreds of people apply and if the employer wanted to hire someone without a well-matched background, s/he would have hired a friend.
The most likely-to-succeed path for this prototypical client is to systemically reach out to their past and present network, professional and personal, concisely touting what they bring to the table, what they’re looking for and why, if they’re a good employee, they’re looking. For example, “I’ve been a manager in the cosmetics industry for 15 years and have done well, especially in building teams and managing projects end-to-end but it’s feeling a little empty, so I’d like to apply those project management skills to nonprofit work. Might you know someone I should speak with?”
Key to this approach working is to individualize the approach to contacting the network: text, phone, or email, and whether to make their Ask then or to invite them to get together, for coffee, a hike, because you have an “extra ticket,” to a party you throw, or “running into them." Then when they, as they usually will, say they have no leads for you, ask if they wouldn't mind keeping their ears open and if you haven't landed something in a month if they'd mind your circling back. They'll likely agree and you've now recruited a bunch of scouts. Sure, they probably won't be beating the bushes for you but the odds are far greater that one of them will have heard of something within a month than at that moment of first contact.
Also critical is for the job seeker to get invested in doing a good job with each query but not be invested in the outcome. Each rejection and non-response burns emotional energy and you don’t want to run out of gas before you land a job.
Of course, as always, there are no guarantees, but that’s what my clients have found the most likely path to a job that seems a longshot.